The truth about inflammation: all you need to know about the trendiest medical issue of 2023, from causes to treatments

The truth about inflammation: all you need to know about the trendiest medical issue of 2023, from causes to treatments

 Remembering that our bodies haven't changed much since we were hunting and gathering a few thousand years ago might help us grasp what can go wrong with them. When sugar was only available from wild berries, for example, our eager reaction to it functioned perfectly. However, now that salt and fat are added to meals that we can't stop eating, it can become a problem. Or take a look at our stress response: if your body only switches resources from the immune system to your fight-or-flight system when a sabre-toothed tiger sometimes attacks, that's great. Your body will never have a chance to heal if every harsh tweet, unpleasant headline, or pang of mortgage anxiety triggers a panic attack.

A little like this is how inflammation functions, one of the health concerns that are both least understood and hotly discussed. There are several cookbooks that promise to provide an "anti-inflammatory diet," with the prospect of even more dramatic benefits offered by supplements, gels, teas, exercises, saunas, and cryotherapy chambers. But at its heart, inflammation is an essential component of the body's immunological response and should not be avoided. When the body senses damaging stimuli, it initiates a complicated biochemical process that serves as both a protective mechanism and a catalyst for recovery. This process can occasionally spiral out of control, causing persistent inflammation that harms rather than helps. the difficult part? Our knowledge of this process is developing; there is a possibility that, if you adjust your You will still receive medical advice that was reversed a decade ago if you injure your knee on a five-a-side pitch.

What do we actually understand about inflammation, and when should we allow it to perform its magic?

Why does inflammation exist?

The immune system's reaction to any stressful event in the bodily tissues, such as a strenuous workout, a skinned knee, or a case of the flu, is inflammation. You may experience some redness, warmth, swelling, and, in rare cases, discomfort and pain as the procedure activates neurons and your immune system release white blood cells to protect the region. This occurs in the area where you have been hurt. When you have the flu, there is discomfort and swelling in the respiratory system, but may also be a factor in your headaches or pain in your muscles and joints.

According to Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King's College London, acute inflammation is a natural defence mechanism that occurs in variable degrees and durations depending on the initial cause. It only becomes an issue when something goes wrong, generally as a result of overreacting. Importantly, though, acute inflammation is often what you want to happen, and attempting to stop it might result in far worse issues. We'll discuss this again.

What's wrong, exactly?

More cause for concern is chronic inflammation. When the body keeps launching white blood cells into the onslaught in the lack of any danger. This interferes with how the body normally works and may cause healthy tissues and organs to be attacked. It can be caused by autoimmune illness, foreign substances ingested into the body, or both. Even though it's not immediately obvious, this condition could be catastrophic.

According to Spector, we are now beginning to understand that chronic inflammation contributes to a number of illnesses that we didn't previously associate it with. "Nearly every illness is linked to some form of inflammatory condition, which is increasingly recognized as a significant aspect of aging. Therefore, reducing chronic inflammation is something we should aim to do.

It frequently results in weariness, although any discomfort will be less localized. It is typically less noticeable than acute inflammation. Importantly, the reasons still need to be better understood.

The most serious and evident autoimmune illnesses are those that cause the immune system to wrongly target and assault bodily cells as foreign invaders or those that result from flaws in the mechanisms that normally control acute inflammation. However, these are malfunctions in the body's communication systems that address issues that aren't truly there, similar to an overly vigilant guard dog barking at shadows. The body's inability to handle actual issues, such as pathogenic organisms or industrial pollutants, can also lead to chronic inflammation. In this case, it is important to ask whether modern living practices are contributing to levels of chronic inflammation that weren't previously there.

A contemporary issue

Our contemporary environs have seen significant change, from the food We are what we eat, how we exercise, and how we interact with people, according to Dr. Shilpa Ravella, an assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University Medical Center. In this unfamiliar milieu, "our immune systems are constantly triggered, resulting in chronic, frequently low-level inflammation that is linked to various types of disease."

Many inflammatory conditions have their origins in the gut, which is home to a sizable portion of the trillions of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other organisms that comprise each person's microbiome. Although scientists are still trying to fully understand the nuances of our relationship with these microorganisms, it is widely acknowledged that one of their most important interactions with our immune cells includes "training" our systems to identify healthy food and germs from their more harmful counterparts. counterparts. Our foraging-friendly gut strikes a delicate balance between keeping the bad stuff out and throwing our immune systems into overdrive, erring on the side of tolerance and delivering a subdued inflammatory response in comparison to other parts of the body. Ravella notes that occasionally, this reaction may go wrong, with genes and the environment working together to upset the balance and cause food allergies, coeliac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, or other issues.

What prompts this interruption? Ultra-processed foods (UPFs) are probably a factor for the majority of individuals. These sort of food are described by researchers as "snacks, drinks, ready meals, and other products created mostly or entirely from substances extracted from foods or derived from food constituents with little if any intact food" and are frequently very handy and tasty. a major element of the standard Western diet. There is evidence - at least in mice - that artificial sweeteners and additives can change the composition of gut microorganisms, creating a more inflammatory environment. However, a review published this year concluded that "evidence on the association between UPF consumption and inflammation is still limited."

Modern remedies

You must still attempt to reduce chronic inflammation, of course. There are several ways to go about it, but one of the best is to start from the inside out. "Reduce processed and refined foods while also limiting added sugars and sugary beverages," advises Dr Sunni Patel, a wellness consultant with more than 15 years of clinical expertise. Think about eating whole, minimally processed foods. foods that are both nutrient-dense and anti-inflammatory. Add a lot of fresh produce, whole grains, lean meats like fish and poultry, beans, and legumes, lean proteins, and healthy fats to your diet. Accentuate the use of herbs and spices like turmeric, ginger, and garlic that have anti-inflammatory qualities when cooking.

Additionally, there is some proof that the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA have anti-inflammatory properties. Try to consume a variety of foods high in these nutrients, such as flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, and fatty fish like salmon and mackerel. It's also vital to limit your alcohol consumption since, among other things, alcohol disturbs your gut flora.

What about going through periods without eating anything at all? Intermittent fasting has several benefits, including that it resembles the erratic food supply that would have been the norm throughout most of human history, and some studies indicates that it may be able to reduce inflammation. "It goes back to this idea that if you give your body the time it needs to repair itself, it will help autophagy - or the destruction of damaged and unnecessary cells," explains Spector. Though preliminary data appears encouraging, additional research is required.

Then what? According to Spector, there is some evidence that exercise helps lessen inflammatory reactions and stress-related reactions. "Partially because it has its own advantages and partially because it can help prevent obesity, which in and of itself causes inflammation."

Exercise doesn't have to be too difficult, according to a 2017 University of California research. San Diego School of Medicine discovered that even one 20-minute session of moderate exercise can activate the immune system, resulting in an anti-inflammatory response. However, earlier research indicates that weight training also benefits, suggesting that the ideal option is a combination of both. Take your walks in areas with vegetation if you can. "By increasing your contact with the natural world," advises Ravella, "you can change your relationship to the microbes living on, in, and around you." "Forest bathing," or just going for a walk in the woods while paying attention to your surroundings, can help us unwind but also exposes us to bacteria, viruses, and fungus that could strengthen our own.

Sleeping well and finding other methods to de-stress are also beneficial. "If you can get your circadian rhythms in order by going to bed at a regular time, that allows repair to occur and makes blood sugar spikes less likely," advises Spector. "Everything helps,"

The best advice is to act like a hunter-gatherer would have done: take long walks, periodically engage in physically demanding activity, and try not to worry too much. Oh, and avoid consuming anything you do not recognize as food. After all, we aren't that advanced.

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